New West End Library on track to open next week

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The D.C. Public Library system is putting the final touches on the new West End branch, constructed as part of a new mixed-use project. (Brian Kapur/The Current/November 2017)
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After years of planning and construction, the new West End Library branch will celebrate its grand opening at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 9 — showing off a modern space with ample room to enjoy upgraded technology, light-filled meeting areas and 40,000 books.

The soon-to-open library at 2301 L St. NW occupies part of the ground floor of a new mixed-use building, which also includes luxury residences on the upper floors and street-level retail.

The project was completed through an intricate partnership involving the District government, EastBanc, JBG Smith and Clark Enterprises. The city granted the use of underdeveloped public land — holding the old library and a small police building — and, in exchange, the project team provided the new library at no out-of-pocket taxpayer cost.

While some other District buildings have adopted similar arrangements — most notably the West End firehouse, another recent EastBanc project — D.C. Public Library executive director Richard Reyes-Gavilan said this is the first time his agency has done so.

“I know that this model has been successful in other cities around the country and the world,” Reyes-Gavilan told The Current. “We get the space at very little cost to taxpayers. There’s a lot of good and not a whole lot of bad.”

Aside from the West End Library, the remainder of the development includes 7,300 square feet of retail and eight stories of residential units. Australian-themed coffee shop Bluestone Lane is slated to open next door to the library in the new year.

The West End Interim Library, located in the Watergate complex during the construction, closed Nov. 9 in anticipation of the L Street space’s completion. Reyes-Gavilan said the project remains on track for the Dec. 9 debut.

In addition to the 40,000 books, the library will feature 40 public computers and a variety of DVDs and CDs. Various private spaces are also available for anyone to reserve, including five study rooms, two conference rooms for eight to 12 people, and a large meeting room for up to 100 people. The library also features communal tables and chairs with plenty of power outlets.

“The hallmark of our new library is flexible seating,” Reyes-Gavilan said.

A winding installation — “Paragons of the West End” by local artist Adrienne Gaither — overlooks the books and tables. The artwork, which is muted in coloring to offset the library’s bright accents, features the names of noteworthy West End residents, including the late Duke Ellington, who was born in the area.

The new library is separated into various sections according to age groups, including children, teenagers and adults. The children’s corner is fitted with several communal areas and decorated in warm colors, encouraging families to use the library for reading and playtime. A large-scale colorful artwork called “A Garden Party,” by local artist Nekisha Durrett, is featured on the wall.

The West End Library will offer a variety of programs and events, Reyes-Gavilan said, including a “storytime gala” slated for next March. Last year, the gala, which seeks to support children’s programming at D.C. libraries, was held at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, which is currently closed amid an extensive overhaul.

Reyes-Gavilan expects the new West End Library’s visitation to be among the city’s highest, estimating 200,000 to 250,000 residents will visit every year given its prime location.

“I think this is a phenomenal place to be at noon on a weekday … to settle in, grab a coffee and work on my laptop,” he said.

This post has been updated to correct the reference to the cafe opening in the same building as the new library. It is the Australian-themed coffee shop Bluestone Lane, not Blue Bottle Coffee, an Oakland, Calif.-based company that opened its first D.C. location in Georgetown last year. The Current regrets the error.